Survey: Lack of standards the biggest problem in PR measurement

Although lack of a unified standard is the biggest measurement problem, most PR pros said that’s “impossible” to achieve. And those Barcelona Principles? Most never heard of them.

Most public relations pros agree on one thing: The lack of a common standard is a major problem in measurement.

But what this should be is open for debate, and the Barcelona Principles—an international attempt to set standards—are largely unknown in the industry, a new survey reveals.

The Ragan/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions online survey of 1,467 PR pros portrays an industry that’s serious about grappling with the problem of measurement.

“Every organization values different metrics,” says Lee McEnany Caraher, survey respondent and president of the San Francisco agency Double Forte. “It’s hard to get to an easily implemented measurement plan that doesn’t need overhauling halfway through because someone decided a new metric was important.”

Disagreement and contradictions emerged in the survey of communicators.

Of note: Two thirds of respondents cited the lack of a standard as the biggest problem with PR measurement. Yet 62 percent of pros don’t think there should be one widely accepted standard because “PR programs vary and have unique goals.”

Surprisingly, not everyone even feels measurement is needed. Asked “Do you measure your PR efforts?” 79 percent answered yes, while 21 percent said no.

The survey, which resulted in a free white paper, dug deep to find out what PR professionals are measuring. It assessed the size of staffs and asked about budgets. Respondents work for PR firms, hospitals, universities, government agencies and other organizations. This is the first of four-part series on the findings.

Principles? What principles?

Some 66 percent of respondents hadn’t heard of the Barcelona Principles, and another 17 percent had heard of them but didn’t know how they apply to PR metrics.

While some called on PR pros to spread the word about the principles, others felt they were too vague.

“The folks who went to Barcelona may feel like they created a roadmap, but they seem to have no clue how to get there,” wrote a global bank executive.

Still, David B. Rockland, a partner at Ketchum who was active in establishing the principles, says there has been progress in measurement. (Rockland chairs the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication.)

“The excuse of ‘my program is special, so you can’t measure it,’ is usually B.S.,” Rockland said when told about the survey results.

“Let’s face it, if you can get away with not being accountable for your work, and still get paid for it, that sounds like a pretty good deal. I do hope, however, that in the longer term that those who are paying the bills for the PR programs realize that they should be holding the practitioner accountable for measuring performance and continuous improvement in results.”

While the principles forbid the use of Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs), 35 percent of our respondents use the disputed metric.

“There doesn’t seem to be a clear voice guiding businesses and agencies towards a common approach to measuring effectiveness,” wrote one survey respondent. “Debates still rumbling on with AVE. Much maligned, but widely used. Are the results of an effective PR campaign purely monetary?”

AVE declining

Across the industry the number of people using AVE is declining, Rockland says.

“If you take PR measurement back five years, the number would have been much higher [than 35 percent],” Rockland says. “Change takes time. However, if there are still a third of PR practitioners who feel that the value of their work is equal to the cost of advertising, that’s kind of sad.”

Most survey respondents (62 percent) answered “no” to the question: “Should there be one, widely accepted standard to measure PR?” One respondent said such a standard would be ideal, “but not all PR goals are created equal!” Another pleaded, “YES PLEASE!”

Survey respondent Ed Van Herik, founder of Van Herik Communications in Atlanta, sees a gap between the Barcelona Principles and the ability of today’s tools to implement them.

“When you take a look at the tools that are out there, it’s really easy to get information from any online resource,” Van Herik says. “Online statistics or website statistics are pretty easy to get. It becomes much more difficult to put a value on PR work and find tools that give you more than some slice of that entire picture.”

Others suggested that instead of a single standard, the industry should adopt a set of standards or metrics to use and compare the success of campaigns.

“A baseline standard should be set, with college students receiving a specialization in PR, leaving school with knowledge in the data analytics arena, no exceptions,” wrote one respondent.

Bosses who don’t appreciate PR

Part of the problem also lies in bosses who are unfamiliar with PR, says survey respondent Lou Covey, chief executive at Footwasher Media in the San Francisco Bay area. He works with many Silicon Valley companies where chief marketing officers tend to be former engineers with no background in or appreciation of PR or its measurement.

The problem apparently isn’t limited to the U.S. Saleh Ibrahim Bature, chief PR officer of the National Gallery of Art in Abuja, Nigeria, says, “Government establishments in developing countries do not consider public relations important in planning their programs. They act as if PR is not a potent and critical contributor towards achieving organizational goals.”

Asked whether measurement is integral to PR, a wide majority—89 percent—agreed with the answer, “Yes, you’ll fly blind without it.” Just 11 percent disagreed.

One respondent said measurement should be carried out on all public relations programs, because “an organization may lose focus if it does not measure PR programs.”

In a choice that allowed multiple clicks, 65 percent agreed that the biggest problem is that “there is no standard.” That drew far more than the next highest selection, “Not enough people measure” (39 percent).

Close behind, 33 percent agreed that “PR pros measure the wrong things,” while 24 percent liked the answer, “Are we still talking about AVEs?!”

Covey, of Footwasher Media, agrees that PR pros often measure the wrong things. Organizations tend to track number of clicks and “likes,” which, he contends, are meaningless. Instead they should focus on engagement.

“Measurement has to be based on how it drives sales,” Covey says. “And in order for it to drive sales, it has to create trust. That’s what we really have to measure: Are we building a trusted relationship with our audience?”


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